Not so competitive competition; playing games not matches.

It is safe to say that the well is pretty much empty today. Part of me would like nothing more to sit and watch a film, thoughtlessly wasting my evening away and distracting myself with my phone should any thoughts pop into my head.

It’s been some years now since I played my sport competitively and nearly the same amount of time since I played it to any standard regularly. I have resigned myself, through injuries, to play only veterans matches; thankfully only played once a month. I would like to say that the result doesn’t matter and I am easier on myself about my performance, but after 16 years of competition, ranging from school sport right through to full time, I can not fully let go of seeking validation from the success of victory or a match well played.

It wasn’t always like this. I remember playing sports at school with my friends, running around a football pitch in the bright sun or even the rain, with scores up in the double figures and never really caring about the result until someone called “next goal wins”. The joy was in the playing, the time spent with friends, the time spent outside at break time. I cared about the result, I always have and, seeing how I approach activities today, I think I always will, but my enjoyment never wavered.

Me evading some BPRUFC players during the EDF Intermediate Cup Final (2009)

From games to matches

It wasn’t until I found a sport I was better at than most that my level of enjoyment started to shift in line with my subjective perception of my performance or the result of the game. If I had played an individual sport, success would have rested solely on my shoulders but finding my gift and passion for a team sport, there were so many factors that could determine my mood when I stepped off that pitch. I could have the game of my life and feel completely void of positivity because the result went against us; we had lost…..I had lost. If my performance was poor, win or lose, I had lost by playing poorly.

Chester Legends (2015) — The beginning of retirement and veterans sport

From matches back to games

Fast forward to today; having played a “fun” veterans match over the weekend, it felt good. We won, a lot of my old teammates were there or playing as well and we all went to the bar after; just like old times. As I was getting the odd pat on the back for my two scores and general performance, I couldn’t help but replay the match in my head and think “if only I’d passed there instead of….”, “if only I’d tried to step that guy instead of…” I had to consciously and deliberately snap myself out of it.

There I was, retired for a few seasons now, far from being match fit, with no skills training or match experience for some time and I couldn’t help reverting to the mindset I had when I was at the peak of competition. I have thought before, and I think now about all those who, like me, had competed at some level and now stood in a bar surrounded by their friends feeling empty or disappointed. Maybe, they are out of sport completely and they are watching the sport they used to compete in. As the match plays out the greater that feeling of emptiness grows as the realisation hits that they are missing a huge part of their identity and have failed to fill the hole with something else.

Obstacle “race” 2013

…..and after it all

I wish I could say I filled that hole. I’ve had long enough, right? I can’t say that though. I play the odd veterans match and have taken up long distance running. The hole is still there though. When I’m not playing the odd match, I run. It started as a way of doing something, anything, to busy my body and my mind at the weekend when I was so used to playing. At first, I plodded along sucking in gulps of air, feeling like I was chewing my way through it, I’d get home and check the time, and I would feel okay. I’d go out for shorter runs during the week and then the weekend would come, I would lace up my trainers and I’d set off checking my run app every half mile to make sure I was on course to beat my last record. Already I was back in competition but with nobody to compete with, I competed with myself.

That would not be a bad thing if I weren’t so competitive. I would run until my lungs felt like they were going to burst to beat my last time and if I didn’t, I would get home, shower and feel like I’d lost for the rest of the day.

I’ve come a long way since I have retired, at coming to terms with no longer going to training and matches with my friends. Socializing, competing, winning but deep down, whether it’s a “fun” veterans rugby match or my weekend solo run; I am still a competitor….if only against myself.


Matt Sheen

Matt Sheen

TOC Blogger

I used to play rugby; now I run up mountains & write stuff

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